This week I read two blogs that converged on the same topic of brand management, more specifically, brand protection and I couldn’t help but weigh in with the help of some of featured authors on CausePlanet, like Sarah Durham (Brandraising) and William McEwen (Married to the Brand).
In the first blog by John Burke of visABILITY, he asks “Is it fair for a very large university to suppress a similar logo of a small, obscure high school 1,400 miles away?” Burke referred to a case where Penn State threatened to sue Buna High School in Buna, Texas if they continued to use a mascot that looked like Penn State’s long-standing and storied Nittany Lion. In the end, the high school changed their mascot and everything associated with it, including team uniforms, office stationery and collateral, logos on gym floors, the works.
Meanwhile, Elaine Fogel of MarketingProfs asks “How far should charities go to protect their brands?” Fogel, who formerly managed the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s brand, further raises the question, “Who gets to use ‘for the cure’ for example? Just the Susan G. Komen for the Cure?” Fogel cites a recent news segment: NBC News report on a breast cancer brand by Brian Williams because it asks the same question.
While Fogel understands that peer organizations who support breast cancer research feel that they should collaborate to achieve greater results for the shared cause, she argues “the reality is that nonprofits fund raising for breast cancer research and programs compete against each other for funding dollars. They also compete with other charities in their market that raise money for other causes. How can they stand out and differentiate their missions unless they have solid marketing and branding strategies? It is absolutely the same as in the business sector. Companies that invest heavily in their brand assets must protect them to avoid confusion in the marketplace.”
I have to agree with Fogel on this one. Organizations spend decades cultivating a purposeful characterization of their service or product and credibility surrounding their fundraising efforts as well as a tremendous amount of time and resources to research their messaging platform and visual identity. It’s no wonder smaller, under-resourced nonprofits want to ride the coattails of a brand that’s already flourishing.
But to the managers of the borrowed brand, it feels like a cavalier act that disrespects everyone involved. “Brandraising involves everyone in your nonprofit’s community—board members and staff leaders, volunteers, program staff, and perhaps donors and funders. Everyone plays a role in the development of effective communications,” says Sarah Durham, author of Brandraising. Those of us who have nurtured a brand know the painstaking efforts a well-developed brand requires especially when nurtured consistently among the staff and volunteers alike.
Furthermore, Married to the Brand author, William McEwan, argues that an organization’s livelihood depends upon its ability to develop lifetime donors, or in his words, “marriages” with donors rather than a series of one-time donors or “first dates.” According to McEwan, healthy brand marriages produce enormous benefits to an organization but these benefits aren’t build overnight. In order for consumers or donors to marry a brand, they must feel an emotional attachment to it. Between 2000 and 2004, Gallup delved into this emotional attachment to learn about the essential requirements of an enduring brand relationship. Their conclusions are summarized in the book and include:
- Brand marriages aren’t built overnight, regardless of how much time and money is spent on marketing programs.
- There’s a crucial difference between a customer and an engaged customer. Building customer engagement should be the focus of every company or organization.
- What it takes to attract first-time customers/donors is different from what it takes to turn that prospect into a fully engaged customer/donor.
- Creating a new brand relationship (a first date) requires conveying a brand promise that is not only credible and compelling, but also establishes a personal connection with the potential customer/donor.
- Keeping customers/donors (a brand marriage) means continuously adding to the bond that initially connected the donor to your organization. Your organization’s brand promise must be reiterated at every subsequent contact with the donor.
- Brand marriages won’t last without trust. However, brand passion is the ultimate determinant of a lasting relationship.
- Emotionally engaging customers/donors results in demonstrable financial return. Disengaging them costs.
- Successful brand marriages can only be achieved through organization-wide commitment and aligned, integrated efforts.
Given the level of strategic planning and endurance required to care for the lifetime engagement of a donor and his/her perceptions of a brand, shouldn’t nonprofits honor one another’s diligence by respectfully declining the use of an existing message or visual? I whole-heartedly say yes.